Tech

Bluetooth headphones with ANC in the test: The Airpods Pro has nothing against the competition

We tested three new Bluetooth headphones known as True Wireless In-Ears with ANC technology: the Momentum True Wireless 2 from Sennheiser, the Magic Earbuds from Honor and the Freebuds 3i from Huawei. It turned out that the Magic Earbuds not only look like the Freebuds 3i, but also behave absolutely the same in all respects.

Bluetooth earplugs saw a change of era with the launch of Apple’s Airpods Pro. Because Apple was the first manufacturer ever to deal with a major problem with Bluetooth earplugs, which the competition is still indifferent to: step reverb.

With a lot of Bluetooth earplugs and also with earphones with usual plastic attachments, there are always problems with it. If the attachments seal tightly, this creates pressure in the ear, which leads to step reverberation: we hear every single step when walking in the ear as a muffled appearance – this is uncomfortable and reduces the enjoyment of music. As a countermeasure, the Airpods Pro have an automatic ventilation system, step reverb is effectively prevented.

Sennheiser and Huawei take no action against step reverb

Neither Sennheiser nor Huawei / Honor have built anything comparable into their products so far and we notice that immediately. While we can listen to music on walks with the Airpods Pro without annoying interruptions, with the plugs from Sennheiser and Huawei / Honor we almost always have the annoying step reverberation noises that greatly disturb the enjoyment of music. If you don’t want to put up with this any longer, you will still have to resort to the Airpods Pro.

Momentum True Wireless 2, Freebuds 3i and Magic Earbuds (Image: Ingo Pakalski / Golem.de)

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A well-functioning Active Noise Canceling (ANC) ensures that both the headphones and the Bluetooth earplugs are attenuated by disturbing ambient noise. The primary purpose is actually air travel, but ANC can also reduce such noise in public transport or when walking along a busy street. With a well-functioning ANC, we can hear significantly more details of the music at moderate volume. Otherwise, this is achieved in devices without ANC by regulating the volume so high that the noise is drowned out.

Huawei’s ANC performance is top notch

Huawei has learned from the mistake the manufacturer made in Freebuds 3. These had already installed ANC technology, but there was probably nothing to notice of it due to the open design. The Freebuds 3i and the identical Magic Earbuds from Honor have been given typical silicone attachments that provide passive noise insulation. But the ANC technology built into the plugs is surprisingly powerful: the plugs reduce noise more efficiently than Apple does with the Airpods Pro.

For Bluetooth earplugs, the Freebuds 3i alias Magic Earbuds deliver a particularly efficient active noise reduction. An extractor hood running at maximum level becomes noticeably quieter with the plugs in the ear, even if we don’t hear any music. When listening to music, the noise on the plane is noticeably reduced, but even a moving S-Bahn or traffic noise on the street is less of a nuisance, so the ANC technology brings us a lot in practice.

However, the Huawei plugs have to be beaten in a comparison with Sony’s WH-1000XM3 or the Noise Canceling Headphones 700 from Bose, which can even produce a lot of silence within limits. Neither the Airpods Pro nor the plugs from Huawei / Honor can do that.

Opened charging cases of the Momentum True Wireless 2, the Freebuds 3i and the Magic Earbuds (Image: Ingo Pakalski / Golem.de)

However, the good experience with the Huawei / Honor plugs is considerably clouded by a very strong wind sensitivity. Wind noise can be heard strongly and permanently disturb the enjoyment of music. The plugs are unusable on the bike, but even a gentle breeze is sufficient for walks, which can be heard as a loud rustling in the ears.

Sennheiser plugs disappoint with the ANC performance

A disappointment in ANC performance are the Momentum True Wireless 2 from Sennheiser. The Active Noise Canceling is not only significantly weaker than the Airpods Pro, but so low that it is absolutely superfluous. If we have the plugs in our ears without listening to music, the Sennheiser plugs will not be able to reduce noise significantly. And even when we listen to music, we don’t notice any reduction in noise, as is the case with the Airpods Pro and even more so with the Freebuds 3i and Magic Earbuds.

All three tested Bluetooth earplugs do not have different ANC levels. But that doesn’t bother us. When using ANC devices, we have never felt the need to reduce the maximum possible ANC performance. If ANC was undesirable, we always switched it off completely.

Both Huawei / Honor and Sennheiser offer transparency operation in their plugs. This means that external noise is transmitted to the inside of the earplugs. This works well for both models, the mode sounds natural, but we still can’t get much out of it. We just took a plug out of our ear faster instead of activating the mode.

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